A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS ELLIOTT DD-967
The Tin Can Sailor, July 2012
The keel of the SPRUANCE-class destroyer ELLIOT (DD-967) was laid down on 15 October 1973 by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corporation, Pascagoula, Mississippi. She was launched on 19 December 1974 and commissioned 22 January 1977. She was named in honor of LTCDR Arthur J. Elliot, a hero of the Vietman War. She was the fifth of thirty-one SPRUANCE-class destroyers. Following her commissioning, she got underway for her new home port in San Diego, California. There, she completed shakedown, tested her weapons systems, and participated in a war-at-sea exercise with twenty-eight other ships. During cruise to the East Coast, the ELLIOT visited the hometown of LCDR Elliot in Rockland, Maine
In 1979, during her first overseas deployment, she operated in the Indian Ocean as a unit of the carrier MIDWAY (CV-41) Battle Group 77.4 The task group also included the USS ENGLAND (CG 22), USS CAMDEN (AOE-2), USS DOWNES (FF-1070), and USS ROBISON (DDG-12). They were conducting routine operations in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden when a Soviet task group appeared.
The ELLIOT’s design enabled her to conduct surveillance operations for extended periods with a minimal likelihood of being observed. Making full use of her capabilities, she engaged in surveillance of the KARA-class cruiser PETROPAVLOVSK and the cruiser-carrier MINSK (CVHG-117) as the latter conducted VTOL Forger aircraft operations and KA-25 Hormone helicopter flights. For five days, the destroyer dogged the Soviet ship, photographing Forger fly-overs and launching her SH-2F LAMPS helicopter for aerial observations. In the process, her observers noted that the LAMPS was more maneuverable than the Soviet’s helo. Their close-in photographs of the ship and its aircraft provided valuable information.
The year 1981 was one of routine operations, after which the ELLIOT deployed to the Western Pacific where she took part in RECONEX 81-2. The exercise included a marine reconnaissance battalion’s landing evacuation from Luzon in the Philippines. She subsequently visited Hong Kong and Pattaya Beach, Thailand, and engaged in operations involving a thirty-six hour, full-power run and naval gunfire support for a SEAL delivery exercise.
In 1982 the ship’s shipboard systems were improved with the addition of an ECM suite including the SLQ-32, topside and magazine armor plating, and enhanced passive sonar. During her deployment she steamed to the site of the downed KAL 007, a Boeing 747 en route to Seoul, South Korea. It had strayed off course and was shot down by a Soviet SU-15. The ELLIOT was the first U. S. ship to reach the site. In 1983 her deployment ended with humanitarian efforts in Korea and the rescue of sixty-eight refugees who had risked their lives for freedom. She spent 1984 in Southern California for exercises and a selected repair availability.
The ELLIOT spent a portion of 1984 evading storms and typhoons, participating in an ENCOUNTEREX exercise with the NEW JERSEY battle group and the KITTY HAWK, assisting the submarine DARTER after a collision with a merchant ship, and engaging in exercises with the Thai navy. In 1986, she attended San Francisco’s Fleet Week and prepared for her upcoming deployment. Early in 1987 she began a fifth deployment that took her north to the Bering Sea. Later she rescued Vietnamese refugees from the Gulf of Thailand. After the attack on the USS STARK in the Persian Gulf, her crew worked on honing their response skills by manning battle stations several times a week. Returning from that deployment, the ELLIOT landed her ASROC launcher from the foc’sle and was refitted with a vertical launching system (VLS) capable of firing the antisubmarine rocket (ASROC) and Tomahawk cruise missiles.
As the ELLIOT moved into the 1990s, she deployed again to the Western Pacific. After participating in PACEX-89, the largest exercise to be held in the Pacific since the end of World War II, she headed to the Gulf of Alaska and, then, into the Bering Sea. En route, her crew endured unusually rough weather between San Diego and Pearl Harbor. As the ship pitched and rolled, the crew’s mess line collapsed onto the mess decks presenting repair crews with a challenging but not insurmountable task.
In 1991, the ELLIOT headed to the Arabian Gulf in the after math of the Gulf War Her operations included escort duties into a Kuwaiti harbor, where the skies were still oil blackened from the burning wells and war-damaged off-shore oil platforms leaked crude oil into the sea. The hulks of sunken Iraqi ships were a grim reminder of the recent war. While in that area, the crew closely monitored the movements of Iranian navy ships while maintaining a lookout for mines. When a French research ship reported a mine, the ELLIOT was ordered to the scene to stand by as explosive ordnance specialists detonated it.
She had a second tour of duty in the Arabian Gulf in 1993 serving as the flagship for the Commander U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. On 1 September 1993 the ELLIOT steamed toward the North Arabian Gulf to provide gunfire support if needed. She remained on station for the majority of her deployment, but received no calls for fire. On 28 November her crew boarded the first cargo vessel inbound to Iraq since the end of the Iran-Iraq war.
In February 1995 ELLIOT participated in CNO Project 251 and fired Tomahawk Cruise Missiles from the Pacific Missile Test Range to a target at the China Lake Weapons Facility. Her deployment that year included port visits in Australia and American Samoa. The ELLIOT visited Bremerton, Washington; Vancouver and Victoria B.C.; San Francisco; and Seattle, Washington, for the 1996 SEAFAIR. At year’s end, she was in dry-dock for a major availability that took her into 1998.
During the ELLIOT’s 1998 deployment she added the now standard Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) operations to her duties. Later that year, she was one of six ships to carry out an attack on terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The Tomahawk launch conducted by the ELLIOT and the other ships was among the earliest attacks on terrorist camps. Three years later, after she had completed her WESTPAC deployment, she again had to turn her attention to the terrorist threat. Her crew engaged in homeland defense during Operation Noble Eagle. Shortly thereafter, the ELLIOT headed out for her final deployment, spending long days in the Arabian Gulf engaged in VBSS, searching for smuggled goods and possible terrorists.
During the summer of 2001, the first female officers joined the ship. LTJG Lesley Smith recalled that “was on a late Friday and the Quarterdeck Watch was surprised. They thought we had the wrong ship.” The number of women officers grew to seven in subsequent years. Because of the lack of berthing facilities, the enlisted crew remained all male.
The ELLIOT’s final eighteen months were spent training her decommissioning crew for an upcoming deployment aboard the USS FLETCHER (DD-992) as part of the Navy’s Sea Swap program. By then, the ship had completed twelve deployments, visited more than twenty ports, welcomed hundreds of sailors, and participated in a variety of combat operations. She was decommissioned on 2 December 2003, and joined the mothball fleet in Pearl Harbor. She was stricken from the navy list on 6 April 2004, and sunk as a target on 24 June 2005, during Talisman Saber 2005, a joint exercise of U.S. and Australian naval forces in the Coral Sea.